What’s a girl to think in a polarized world?

 the end is near

The End is Near, and That’s a Good Thing?

After two terms of the George W. Bush administration, just about everybody, Republicans and Democrats alike, has an arsenal of skanky words they can use to tar and feather the president. He’s a sabre-rattler, a moron, a nitwit, a fiscal disappointment, an intellectual lightweight, a dunce who says nookular. Now that Bush’s term is coming to an end, I feel compelled to confess some kind of fellow feeling for this man — not because I sympathize with his tactics, but because in a storm, you can’t always see what’s right in front of you, and you’re bound to make some bad decisions.

By virtually all accounts, Bush has gotten it wrong on every foreign policy issue. Iraq is the biggest blunder, of course. We all agree that it was unconscionable to have invaded a country and executed its Tito-type leader based on the cooked-up intelligence that Dick Cheney and his cabal presented to the world as gospel.

But here’s what confuses me. In the couple of years before the war, that is, before 9/11, I was reading about Saddam Hussein’s gas attacks on the Iraqi Kurds. Where did I get that information? Not from The National Review, not from Right Wing News. I read an article about the “genocide” of the Kurds in The New Yorker, a magazine famous for its fact-checking, and for its implicit belief that the goals of literature and humanistic sentiment tend to coincide. I can still remember a description of a woman whose cognitive abilities were severely compromised as a result of a gas attack on her town. That’s horrible, I thought. But what can anybody do?

At about the same time, I began receiving e-mail forwards from a left-wing family member warning about the misogynistic program of the Taliban. The e-mail referred to the unchecked spread of the Taliban’s power and its growing influence over the Arab world. Something had to be done. That something, it seems, was no more than signing an e-mail petition decrying the Taliban and then forwarding it to five of your closest friends. I don’t do forwards, but I did this one because it seemed, well, serious. Urgent.

In short, the journalism on the left in those days right before 9/11 reflected the panic that “progressive” people felt about the growth of these represssive — and exclusively — mass Islamic movements. What if some crazed Islamic fundamentalist got hold of enriched uranium in some unmonitored storage bin in the former Soviet Union? What if a state full of gat-chewing seventeen-year-olds — we’re talking about Moslem-dominated Somalia here — got hold of submachine guns and went on a national shooting spree? What if Taliban-style politics resulted in women being prevented from leaving their homes, ever, even with a male escort, even to go to school or the shuk? What if Saddam kept paying Palestinian families, what, $25K, if they volunteered up their children to be suicide bombers? The world was looking pretty weirded out even before Susan Sontag all but praised the 9/11 hijackers for taking on an arrogant superpower, i.e., the U.S.

So, in this post-9/11 world, Bush starts talking all crazy about evildoers, and making them pay for what they did to the World Trade Center and the “multicultural” population that worked there. And he goes on and on about an Axis of Evil. And then he starts a rant about Saddam having weapons of mass destruction and somebody has to stop him. In my mind, I’m already worrying about the Taliban, and I’m freaked out that a bunch of fairly well-educated guys can hijack airplanes and fly them into seemingly indestructable tall buildings. And suddenly the scary scenarios that Bush paints do not seem implausible to me anymore.

And now we “learn” — who knows if we can “learn” anything when no piece of intelligence will ever be truly credible again — that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Plenty of people in the media, and plenty of them running for U.S. president, are gloating. See, they seem to be saying. We told you Bush is an idiot who’s fast on the trigger. We begged him not to engage in that Bible-thumping talk about evildoers. Evildoers! There is no such thing as evil. There’s only humane policy and Bush policy. Throw da bum and his Republican claque out ASAP. And while we’re at it, stomp on any Democrat who once looked upon the gassing of the Kurds and the Buddha-hating Taliban as manifestations of a world gone whackadoodle.

Hey, weren’t those progressive voices calling for military intervention in Bosnia during the Clinton administration? What about Rwanda? Wouldn’t it have been better to have flouted that country’s national sovereignty than to ignore the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis? Why did intervention make sense back then, but today it’s only a sign of Bush’s dementia?

Here’s the saddest conclusion of all. You cannot take any preemptive action to protect yourself. You have to wait until, say, a Hitler annexes countries. No, you have to wait until he rounds up civilians and puts them in death camps. Then, if diplomacy fails, maybe you can take some kind of action. Probably sanctions. Certainly, you can’t be too aggressive these days with the Islamic world because, well, it’s not nice to assume that Islamic radicals will do what their heroes already have done, i.e., attack U.S. Navy ships, U.S. foreign embassies and a U.S. financial district.

We’ve learned not to make an omelet because to do so means you have to crack some eggs. Better to go hungry.

Bush is on his way out. We’ll all have something to celebrate in November 2008. But I can’t help but wonder how a President Hillary Clinton or Obama or Giuliani or Romney or any of the candidates will act in the face of individuals and movements that despise us — all of us, whether we’re on the left, right or middle. Will we hate the next president and vice president too, or do they get a pass simply because they’re not George W. Bush and Dick Cheney?

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1 Comment »

  1. modestine said

    Mark Danner wrote a trenchant analysis of the Iraq War, which he describes as an ill-conceived, extemporaneous project sparking the very thing the Bush Administration hoped to prevent, namely the growth of Islamic radicalism.

    Read Iraq: The War of the Imagination. This first appeared in The New York Review of Books, December 21, 2006. I read it in The Best American Essays, 2007, David Foster Wallace, Editor; Robert Atwan, Series Editor. Houghton Mifflin Company.

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